DENVER — The U.S. Forest Service has apologized for suggesting that campers who eat tortillas, drink Tecate beer and play Spanish music may be armed marijuana growers, calling it "regrettable" and "insensitive."
Forest Service officials apologized to Colorado Hispanic leaders in a meeting two weeks ago and released a written apology this week.
The Forest Service issued a warning about armed drug growers last month amid an investigation into how much marijuana is being cultivated in national forests in Colorado. Officials retracted it two days later amid heavy criticism.
The written apology by Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Rick Cables says the agency "learned some valuable lessons."
He says the agency will establish a forum for more discussions about how to engage with Hispanics.
Cables said he met with 17 Hispanic community leaders, representing a variety of Hispanic organizations in Colorado, to issue an apology for what he said were "regrettable references" during an Aug. 26 media briefing about illegal marijuana cultivation activities in national forests in Colorado.
"We sincerely apologize to the Hispanic community and anyone else we may have offended. That was not our intent. Our goal was to inform the public of these activities and create safety awareness among the hunters and hikers who travel to our remote backcountry areas and who may come upon these illegal operations," he said in a statement.
Polly Baca, co-chairwoman of the Colorado Latino Forum, said meeting was productive and a good start on mending relations after the Forest Service has promised to conduct sensitivity training for its agents.
"It was obvious the staff did not have the cultural awareness they need. Federal employees don't often have the opportunity to be engaged in activities outside the home," she said.
She said she and other Hispanic leaders received a number of messages from across the country expressing concern, along with some hate mail criticizing Hispanics.
During the briefing last month, U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers issued a warning to beware of campers in national forests who eat tortillas, drink Tecate beer and play Spanish music because they could be armed marijuana growers.
The warnings were issued following the recent discovery of more than 14,000 plants in Pike National Forest. Forest Service officials said they believe illegal immigrants are being brought to Colorado by Latin American drug cartels for mass cultivation of marijuana.